They’re young, they’re darned attractive, and their hands glow an eerie neon blue when they’re in trouble. And they’re in trouble a lot, because they’re being hunted. They have superhuman strength, great hair and lips and wardrobes to die for. And they’re not vampires. Thank heavens.
Brit hunk Alex Pettyfer took an earlier shot at a franchise (Alex Rider: Stormbreaker didn’t work out), but he’s grown into a solid and quite interesting lead to build this potential sci-fi movie series around. He plays John, who is named Daniel when we first meet him. He’s one of the nine “gifted” children rescued from their planet, which was overrun by the same beastly boys who are hunting him to this day. The nine were hidden away on Earth, with protectors. Daniel’s is named Henry (Timothy Olyphant, quite good).
When their cover is blown in sunny surfside Florida, they flee. “This is the part of my life I hate the most,” Daniel narrates. “The running.” They slip into Paradise, Ohio, where Daniel becomes John Smith. Despite Henry’s protests, John refuses to lay low. He goes to high school. He falls for the hot photographer, Sarah (Dianna Agron of TV’s Glee). He runs afoul of her bully-jock ex-boyfriend (Jake Abel). And John finds a kindred spirit, the kid everybody teasingly calls “Spock” but whose real name is Sam (Callan McAuliffe of Flipped). Sam thinks his dad was abducted by aliens, so he and John have a lot to talk about.
Director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) knows his action beats, and he stages some fierce fights in the third act. There are ray guns, alien torture balls and reptilian tracking beasties that the Mogadorian assassination squad has at its disposal. The Lorian kids are armed with neon-tipped daggers. Caruso gives the Jobie Hughes/James Frey source novel as many flashy whistles and bells as he can in bringing this tale to the screen. But what works best are the high school moments, kids enforcing or trying to escape the social order, puppy love rearing its head.
Olyphant gives his father figure a wild-eyed edge, and Teresa Palmer is a super-cool, super-deadly Aussie blonde who is on John’s trail, too. As action films aimed at this audience go, I Am Number Four falls midway between Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Twilight, edgier than Jackson, mockingly self-aware, but without the white-hot sexual tension of the vampire movies. And the subtext, that you shouldn’t waste your teen years on stupid risks because you’re needed “for a higher purpose,” makes this a franchise I won’t mind seeing progress to a second movie.
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Callan McAuliffe.
Director: D.J. Caruso.
Screenwriters: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Marti Noxon. Based on the novel by Jobie Hughes and James Frey.
Producer: Michael Bay.
A DreamWorks studios release. Running time: 108 minutes. Intense sequences of violence and action, language. Opens Friday Feb. 18 at area theaters.